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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Austin Completes US Girls Sweep of Orange Bowl Titles; Mmoh Takes Boys 12s; Sapwell Crowned Boys 14s Champion

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Coral Gables, FL--

Brooke Austin was determined to win the Junior Orange Bowl girls 14s title after falling in the final as a 13-year-old in 2009. That mission accomplished with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Domenica Gonzalez of Eucador, Austin not only held the winner's bowl of oranges, but also completed a U.S. sweep of the girls Orange Bowl titles this month, joining Lauren Davis, Allie Kiick and Nicole Frenkel as champions.

Saying that she was so nervous that she couldn't hit the ball in the court in 2009, Austin admitted she was still a bit jittery as she took the court at the University of Miami Neil Schiff Tennis Center, but the experience from last year helped her.

"This year I kind of knew what to expect," said the Indianapolis resident, seeded sixth this year. "Last year I was a little overwhelmed."

Austin's style of play, which is hitting balls hard, flat and on-the-rise, robs her opponents of the time they need to get into the point. The fifth-seeded Gonzalez, who had lost 6-2, 6-2 to Austin in last year's semifinals, hung with Austin for the first four games, and although down a break twice, denied Austin when serving for the first set by breaking her at love at 5-4.

But Austin began to find the range at that stage of the match, and breaking Gonzalez at love, she had a second opportunity to secure the first set. It wasn't easy--she needed three set points--but she started putting away the short balls with increasing confidence, and that pattern continued in the second set.

"At the beginning of the second, I was like, okay, let's get off to a good start," said Austin, who broke Gonzalez to open the set. "I was going for my shots more and they were going in, because I wasn't so tight."

Austin got a second break to make it 4-1, but after squandering a 4-1 lead in the second set in her semifinal win over Varvara Flink on Wednesday, Austin was determined not to lose her focus and her lead, as she had done the previous day.

"I thought, we're going to stay focused, we're not going to let up again," said Austin, who promptly lost one of her breaks on a double fault in the next game, but stopped the decline then and there. "I just stayed focused and won the next two games."

Gonzalez double faulted on her game point to make it 5-2, and as the match continued, she struggled with her movement, frequently on the defensive as Austin stood no more than a foot behind the baseline and took aim at the lines.

"Yesterday I played one of the better matches of my life," Gonzalez said of her nearly three-hour 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(1) win over top seed Barbara Haas. "I played well today in the first set, but then I was really tired. My legs didn't really respond, and I couldn't move. The first set I gave everything, but she stayed every minute in the match."

Austin closed out the championship she had targeted all year without much drama, punching a backhand winner on her first match point, giving the U.S. its fourth Orange Bowl champion in four tries.

Asked about the future of American women's tennis after the Orange Bowl sweep, Austin was optimistic.

"Obviously we have a lot of talent coming in soon so we'll see what happens. But it's really exciting."

After spending Christmas in Indianapolis, Austin will head to Arizona for the USTA Winter Nationals, where she'll compete in the 18s.

Michael Mmoh of the U.S. will also be heading to the desert shortly. It will not be Arizona, however, but Saudi Arabia, where he now lives.

Mmoh, who had begun the Florida junior swing virtually unknown, changed all that with his appearance in the Eddie Herr final. Three weeks later, having been given a wild card into the main draw of the Junior Orange Bowl and a No. 1 seed, Mmoh claimed one of the most prestigious 12-and-under titles in the world with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over unseeded Oh Chanyeong of Korea.

Mmoh, the son of former ATP professional Tony Mmoh of Nigeria, who reached 105 in the world rankings in 1987, had beaten Chanyeong at the Eddie Herr in the round of 16. But the player he faced today at the University of Miami courts was not one he recognized.

"He really changed his game between this match and the last match," said Mmoh, who credits his coach Tawfiq Moafa for his recent impressive results. "In this match he started hitting very, very flat and attacking a bit more."

Mmoh is difficult to attack however, as he anticipates well and moves quickly despite his size. Able to return nearly every shot, Mmoh didn't seem to fear Chanyeong's new strategy once he adjusted to it in the second set.

As the Korean cheering section supporting Chanyeong began to get less and less boisterous, Mmoh took control in the final set, hitting more winners and making far fewer errors than the Korean.

After securing the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title, Mmoh was heading out to play some golf before taking a Christmas Day flight back to Saudi Arabia.

Asked if his victory would be big news in that country, Mmoh was realistic in his assessment.

"Not around all of Saudi, but in the tennis community, yes. They know the Orange Bowl."

Joshua Sapwell of Great Britain can count on substantially more attention for his victory in the boys 14s final, but like Mmoh, Sapwell was forced to mount a comeback, never an easy task in a major final. The top seed found his "A" game in the next two sets however, defeating unseeded Borna Coric of Croatia 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-3.

Serving down 5-2 in the opening set, Sapwell saved four set points in that game and broke Coric when he was serving for the set. Although there were more errors than winners in the tiebreaker that followed, it was Coric who stayed in the points longer, and he won the final four points to take the set.

Sapwell went down immediately in the second set when he was broken in the first game, but Coric wasn't able to hold that break or the next one, which gave him a 3-2 lead. Sapwell began to play much better midway through the set, and when he got two break points with Coric serving at 4-5 in the second, he took advantage immediately, holding his own in a lengthy forehand to forehand rally that ended when Coric finally hit one long.

In the third set, Sapwell got the first break to take a 3-1 lead, and survived a break point in the next game to take a 4-1 lead. Coric came back, winning the next two games, and Sapwell could have become discouraged when he lost a three-deuce game in which he had three double faults. But Sapwell broke Coric at love and suddenly found himself serving for the championship.

After his previous service game, in which he made almost no first serves, Sapwell's confidence could have been shaken, but it was not. When it most mattered, Sapwell got his first serve in, and on two of the points, he was able to use the one-two punch of big first serve and a third-shot forehand winner, a combination that Coric simply did not have in his repertoire.

"In weather like this you don't really want to be playing a point too long," Sapwell said of the temperatures in the mid-70s, with little breeze. "You obviously only get a certain amount of time between points, and cheap points here and there are always great. I had a bigger advantage with my serve, and I always feel with the players I play, I have a better return than them."

On match point, Sapwell missed his first serve, but made his second, and when Coric sent a backhand wide, Sapwell had his title, and Great Britain its second boys Orange Bowl winner of the month.

Sapwell counts Orange Bowl 18s champion George Morgan among his friends, and the fact that Morgan won the boys 14s title in 2007 wasn't lost on him.

"He's worked so hard, and for me to have the best chance of doing what he's done, I have to work hard as well," the 14-year-old from Bedfordshire said. "He's unbelievable."

Sapwell is returning to England for Christmas with his family, but is already looking forward to 2011.

"Next year, the hard work starts again."

The boys 14s consolation title went to Bogdan Bobrov of Russia, who defeated Ernesto Escobedo of the U.S. 6-2, 6-3. Gabrielle Smith of the U.S. won the girls 14s consolation tournament. Francis Tiafoe of the U.S. won the boys 12s consolation title with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Mark Chepurnoy of Russia. Sofia Kenin of the U.S won the girls 12s consolation title on Wednesday, defeating Aleksandra Pospelova of Russia 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.